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2020-21 was a hard year for MDS Canada. Once again, the pandemic was the big story. It curtailed most of our responses in this country and prevented Canadians from going to the U.S. to volunteer.

But it didn’t stop us from doing what we could to help people impacted by disasters. Despite the pandemic, and the restrictions it imposed, we still responded to people in need in Canada.

 

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Reconciliation with Indigenous people in Ontario

An important issue in Canada is reconciliation with Indigenous people. One way the MDS Ontario Unit was able to do that was by helping to renovate the MCC Indigenous Neighbours office in Timmins.

Volunteers from the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite conference, the Matheson Old Order Mennonites and from southern Ontario renovated and upgraded the 100-year-old office building in that northern Ontario community so it could be a base for reconciliation efforts between settler and Indigenous Canadians.

The work was complicated by pandemic travel restrictions, but we were able to provide MCC with a good working space for their important work.

 

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A group of people standing in front of a house.

(L-R) Dan Driedger, Executive Director of MennoHomes, Bruce Weber of MDS, Eric Willms, Ahed and Najwa Altroudi and their three children, and Karen Redman, Chair of the Region of Waterloo at the Mill St. house dedication.

 

Providing homes for a refugee family and family in need in Ontario

Also in Ontario, we were able to work with MennoHomes, an organization that provides affordable housing in Kitchener, to renovate a derelict house into a home for a Syrian refugee family.

Like with the MCC office, the work was slowed by pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. But in August we were able to give a key to Altroudi family of five from Syria.

We were also able to help a family in Barry’s Bay which has a disabled child. Due to the child’s disability, the family had to be separated so the mother and child could live in a sterile, temperature-controlled space. We partnered with the local Knights of Columbus to add a safe addition to their home so the family can be finally united.

 

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A couple stand in front of the overlook of their new home.

Lydia and Cliff Trudeau

 

Responding to wildfires in B.C.

In a remote part of British Columbia, we learned you can be off the grid but not out of God’s plan when it comes to rebuilding a house.

That’s what happened after a fire destroyed the home of Cliff and Lydia Trudeau at Cuisson Lake.

Rebuilding their house was challenging since they live off the grid in a remote part of the province.

With some creative thinking on the part of volunteers, along with energetic ingenuity and lots of prayer, the house was completed in August. 

As Mark Rempel, a member of the B.C. Unit put it: “I never thought I would spend so much time praying for things like getting building permits and concrete delivery. Time and again, it was clear that God was in control and a way was made for the project to move quickly, from start to finish. That is God’s work and God is in control.”

 

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Fixing a home at the Westbank Bible Camp in Saskatchewan

“Amazing!” is the word Westbank Bible Camp Director Jeff Penner used to describe the service of the MDS volunteers who came to renovate the camp’s house and office.

“They showed up with a servant attitude and posture, always asking what they could do for us, how they could serve us,” he said. “It was phenomenal. They had such servant hearts.”

Through their work, the volunteers renovated the combined office and home for the director and the director’s family at the camp, which is supported by Mennonite Brethren congregations and other churches in southern Saskatchewan.

For the Saskatchewan Unit, it was a way to support the mission of the camp, using the skills God has given us through MDS. 

 

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Hay West: Farmers helping farmers in Saskatchewan

Also in Saskatchewan, weather was the big story this year. Drought affected farmers in the province, hitting livestock farmers the hardest. Many don’t have enough hay for their animals in winter.

“I never thought I would spend so much time praying for things like getting building permits and concrete delivery. Time and again, it was clear that God was in control and a way was made for the project to move quickly, from start to finish. That is God’s work and God is in control.”

— Mark Rempel, Member of the B.C. Unit

Together with the MDS Ontario Unit we created MDS Hay West, a way for farmers in Ontario—who enjoyed good growing weather—to send donated hay to Saskatchewan.

Best of all, it was a way for farmers in Ontario say thanks. It was ten years ago that farmers in Saskatchewan sent Hay East to them when drought was bad in that province.

As Nick Hamm put it: “They helped us when we needed it. Now it’s our turn to return the favour.”

For all of us, no matter where we live, it’s one way we can help each other in hard times. 

 

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Working with the community to rebuild a home in Newfoundland

When a fire in July destroyed the home of Diane and Reginald Rice in Triton, a fishing community on Newfoundland’s northeast coast, the MDS Atlantic Unit wanted to respond. 

Two challenges were quickly apparent: There are no Mennonite churches in Newfoundland and pandemic restrictions made travel difficult for volunteers from other parts of Canada.

But that wasn’t a problem. MDS Canada providing funding for materials, and with support from our Atlantic Canada unit, volunteers in Triton stepped up to rebuild the Rice’s house. They moved in in October.

Said Diane about her new house: “It was nothing short of a miracle. It never would have happened without MDS. It’s just so unreal. I don’t know how to thank MDS. It’s amazing how people we don’t know came to help us. It’s God sent, that’s all I know.”

For MDS Canada, the experience showed once again people don’t need to be Mennonite to do service with MDS—they just need to support our values and be willing to pick up a hammer.

 

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Spirit of MDS Fund

While the pandemic shut down most MDS responses in Canada during the pandemic, churches were still busy responding to COVID-related needs.

At MDS in Canada we decided to support congregations to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities by creating the Spirit of MDS Fund. From March 2020 to April 2021 we provided 81 grants worth $206,900 CDN/$161,500 U.S. 

It was so successful, we decided to make it a permanent part of the way we do MDS in Canada. The Spirit of MDS Fund exists to help churches meet needs in their communities and enables us to promote the values and service of MDS.

 

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Klassen, Rudance and Dougans unloading damaged items at the downtown dump.

 

B.C. Floods

“When water filled the basement, I cried.”

That’s what Michelle said about the night the nearby Tulameen River topped its banks and flooded the town of Princeton, B.C. in mid-November.

Michelle was fortunate her son was able to call friends over to bail out the basement by hand.

“But my furnace and hot water tank are ruined,” she said.

For the stay-at-home mom, who is on disability, then weeks since the flood “have been very stressful.”

Water keeps leaking into the basement; a pump can barely keep up.

When she went to the Princeton Baptist Church food bank and told them she was stressed, they put her on a list for help from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada.

“If not for MDS, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said of how the organization provided volunteers to find the source of the leak and aid in clean-up.

The terrible floods that hit B.C. in November impacted many people in Princeton, like Michelle. Together with MCC B.C., MDS Canada is responding by sending volunteers to help people clean up following the disaster. More volunteers are needed; contact MDS if you want to serve.

 

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Conclusion

Our work is part of the larger work of MDS in the U.S. and Canada. Altogether, 3,393 Canadians and Americans volunteered their time, skills and compassion to build 74 new homes, complete 115 repairs, finish 343 cleanups, and build 5 new bridges for households who experienced a disaster. All this volunteer labor was valued at $5.7 million USD/ $7.1 million CAD based on a volunteer rate of $28.54 USD/hour. 

At MDS in Canada our goal is to use our core values of faith in action and caring relationships to be a witness to God’s love for the world. We join the rest of the MDS family in praying for God’s continued blessing on our work together.

Henry Warkentin, Chair, MDS Canada 

Click here to read the combined MDS in the U.S./MDS Canada report, including financial information.

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